Many online courses merely provide the content, such as text and video, and little else to engage the learner. The problem with that is learners are passively taking in the content but not doing anything with it.

This poses two problems:
1. The new knowledge does not transfer to long term memory because they are only absorbing it and not applying it
2. They become bored and disengaged

Therefore, it is best practice to engage your students to be active learners. However, that does not mean throwing a huge project at them but provide small bite-size exercises they can try to better understand the concept/strategies/method etc.
Then, when they have achieved the exercises and moved the learning to memory, they will have more success applying it in a bigger way. I talk about this approach in my blog post: In Learning, Take Tasty Tiny Bites. Then Soar!

Successful students = happy customers.


Today’s choice of technology to use in our businesses that help improve our production is outstanding. The same goes for online courses. There are many easy tools and freebies to add a layer of activity, interaction and communication to a course.

Here are some active learning ideas:

Quizzes are meant to test someone’s understanding of factual knowledge and help them to retain it. Sprinkle these throughout your course where there are many facts, terms, acronyms, etc. Ensure to add feedback to every question for additional teaching. This can be added right in the quiz set-up.
There are a number of applications that provide online quizzes:

  • Zippy Courses plugin and WP Courseware plugin include a quiz feature allowing you to add them to your course.
  • An external resource that offers quizzes online through their service, such as ClassMarker
  • Software that allows you to embed a quiz in a website, such as ProProfs.


Guide a Show&Tell event where students present a small piece of their work with others in their course. They could show parts of a written exercise, screenshot of design work, photograph of a finished product, etc.

  • Presentations could be designed in PowerPoint and saved as a PDF that includes explanations of the work
  • Prezi is a fun software that has a dynamic look and feel and great to share many ideas
  • Students could share their presentation in a private group or by email with an attachment
  • As well, they could share a link to their presentation via Google docs or other online platforms they control such as SlideShare.


Communication with others is key to counter feelings of isolation and loneliness online as well as enhance the learning experience. Help set up these communication places.

Encourage students to communicate with others, even to accomplish a task, through a number of available technologies, such as:

  • Facebook private online groups
  • Social media, such as Twitter using Hashtags
  • Free web conference services, such as AnyMeeting or Google+ Hangouts


If your topic lends to looking or exploring something, then find a series of websites and share with students to view like a field trip. There are a number of free virtual tours presented my museums.

  • Check out Merlot learning resources to find virtual field trips.


Have fun exploring these active learning ideas and tools. You don’t have to incorporate them all but try one or two. You will see that your students become more engaged!

img3Dr. Kelly Edmonds is a professional instructional designer and e-learning specialist. In a nut shell, she designs engaging online courses and teaches how to create them.

Check out her upcoming course, starting March 2, 2015: Your Great & Gorgeous E-Course.